By Abigayle Strano ‘21
My adventure began on March 4, 2019 when Alexandra Attwood, my exchange partner, and I set off on the 24-hour journey to Cape Town, South Africa. Carmela, Craig, Alex and Sebastian Attwood welcomed me into their home with open arms.
I attended St. Cyprian’s School, an all girls school, located very close to the city centre. I was a boarder Monday to Friday and stayed with Alex and her family on weekends. When I was in the boarding house, I was woken up every morning at 6:30 a.m. and classes were from 7:40 a.m. until 2:40 p.m. We had four classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. This was very different from my life as a day student at Lakefield where classes start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m.
While I was on my exchange I pushed many emotional and physical boundaries. Leaving my home was very challenging for me. Prior to my exchange, I had only spent two weeks away from home and was unsure of how I would handle the long adventure ahead of me. Being away from home for nine weeks was challenging, and I found myself missing things that I didn’t think possible. I missed my family, my friends and familiar surroundings—immersing myself into a new culture in a country halfway across the world was overwhelming.
The first week of my exchange I rafted down the Orange River which flows between South Africa and Namibia. Sixteen girls conquering 64 kilometres of paddling in under five days with nothing but sunshine—my favourite part of the trip was sleeping under the stars. We were far enough away from the city that the sky was full of them. There were so many constellations I didn’t recognize. I would fall asleep with the Milky Way overhead and be completely disoriented when I woke up in the night to find it in a different spot. They certainly put the light polluted Peterborough sky to shame.
The Attwood’s took me to their beach house in Plettenberg Bay where we spent a week watching dolphins and going on walks by the water. After bodyboarding for a few days I had my first surfing lesson. Surfing has always been something I’ve always wanted to try. It was in Plettenberg Bay that I experienced load shedding for the first time. Load shedding is when the power in the community completely turns off for a couple hours at a time. Every community has a different time from which the power turns off. In Plettenberg Bay it turned off from 8:00 to 10:30 p.m. and from 2:30 to 4:00 a.m. The reason for load shedding is that there is a lack of energy for the entire country so in order to preserve it it must be turned off.
In Cape Town there is a mountain called Table Mountain that people come from all over the world to climb. I thought it would be cool to have climbed a mountain while in South Africa so I asked my host family if we could. Climbing Table Mountain was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve done in my life. It took about two hours to climb with many breaks up the mountain side. The further I climbed, the more my head felt like it was about to explode. I was debating going down when I was halfway up the mountain. Looking back I don’t know why I did that voluntarily. I found myself at the back of the group I was hiking with, taking it slower than everyone else because I felt so awful. Carmela stayed back with me encouraging me the whole way. Despite my struggle I got to the top admittedly slower than everyone, else but I had made it nonetheless. I couldn’t have been more proud of myself in that moment. I was on top of the world, literally.
Before I went to South Africa I didn’t know anything about its history, now I have a better understanding of apartheid and how it affected the people of South Africa. I was shocked to find out apartheid only ended 25 years ago. You can still see the impact it had on the country.
Personal safety is a concern in South Africa so I took many precautions—I never walked anywhere alone or took public transportation, I always kept my phone in the bag I was carrying with me and never pulled it out on a street corner for fear of it being stolen. The only time I took out my wallet was when I needed to pay for something. Before my exchange, I took my freedom for granted. I enjoy biking to friends houses and having my phone in my back pocket. Being reintroduced to familiar surroundings I’ve realised how safe the environment around me are and I feel more comfortable than before to just be myself.
So many people have referred to my adventure in South Africa as “a trip of a lifetime.” I really hope that is not my reality and that I will have the chance to go back to South Africa to see friends I have made. I would definitely recommend going on an exchange. I had an amazing experience in South Africa. Exchange gave me a reason to travel a part of the world that otherwise I wouldn’t have dreamed of traveling to. I am so glad to have taken advantage of this opportunity. I know I will remember it for the rest of my life.